Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Finding "survivals"

Finding "survivals"


Jeff Angus and I are doing some collaborative blogging on finding and eliminating "survivals", those invisible steps that impede your company and mine.  How do we find them? 


Here's a key question that I have found to regularly unearth these nasty little critters:


What stops flow?


In any manufacturing or process sequence, any machine, procedure or person that stops the flow of product is a possible (likely) seedbed of one of these survivals.  So, by looking for yourself and observing where flow stops, you will find them.  Probably more than you expect. 


Example one: My colleague Misty observed that she had been making a particular annotation on all checks we cut to vendors.  And it disrupted flow.  It had to be added onto the check after it had been approved. And she observed that we never used this particular annotation.  And, further, she discovered that the information it conveyed was already in our financial system.  It disrupted flow.  It added no value.  And, correctly, she said "Joe, why on earth do we do this?"  We eliminated it. 


She saw it because it disrupted flow.


Example two:  A local engineer whom I met through a network told me of a sheet-metal process she observed in her plant.  It seems that the process involved taking a large sheet of steel, running it through a metal shear to cut it into smaller blanks, then placing these blanks into a press, where a die cut the final shape of the part.  The final part was still flat.  Amy observed that the first cutting step seemed to disrupt flow.  So she asked one of the operators "Why do you cut that blank?"  Predictably, she learned "Because we've always done it that way."  Looking at the press, Amy then asked, "So why couldn't we just put the full sheet directly into the press and skip the blanking step?"  In this instance, there were no physical barriers to this happening safely. 


It turns out, the part was originally prototyped with a much more labor-intensive cutting process, not using the press at all.  Thus, the early blanking made the metal much easier to handle by an individual associate. When they installed the die, the old habit still stuck around. 


Amy drove the change to eliminate the blanking.  Not without some real grief and pushback.  But, she persevered and got it changed, saving a lot of hassle and eliminating one flow disruption. 


She saw it because it disrupted flow. 


Take a look for flow-stoppers in your operation.  And see if there isn't some survival in the way, a non-value-adding step that you can eliminate.  Now. 


I hope this is helpful.



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